Thursday, 9 February 2012

Newspapers are my Life

I used to be a loyal newspaper reader, and by what I read in the paper, one of the few. Around the dinner hour every night, I used to read my Calgary Herald cover to cover, and it was a very peaceful half hour of my day. One of my favourite things is to lay in bed on Saturday morning (heck, any morning) and spend an hour with the paper and a good cup of coffee. For me, it has always been so. I started reading the Toronto Star everyday when I was about 8, and until I moved to the mountains where I have to drive into town to get a daily paper, I was still going strong reading my paper every day. I was even strange enough to collect every paper if I was away, and read them in order, 2 and 3 weeks at a sitting.

For me, reading the paper is a tactile thing. Newspapers deliver me more than just what I want. Every time I read one I am drawn to read something I had no idea I would be interested in. Sometimes it’s fashion, sometimes it’s about a happening somewhere in the world. But I read it because I stumble across it in the paper.

This is why I am astounded when I read that increasingly, people are getting their news from the internet, and newspaper readership is down. Don’t get me wrong – I use the ‘net to find news on interests I have that are so esoteric that no newspaper in their right mind would carry it (Formula 1 Racing. Canadian University Basketball, goings on at Apple, the oil and gas industry). But you can skim Yahoo or Reuters, or Google all the news you want and not get the newspaper “experience”.

I am getting increasingly puzzled by the newspaper business. On the one hand, I read that conventional readership of newspapers in general is on decline. Then on every street corner, more newspapers appear, and seem to do so weekly. At last check in Calgary, there’s the Calgary Herald, the Calgary Sun, the Globe & Mail, the National Post, 24, Metro, Dose and FFW. Do we need 7 papers? Competition is generally good, but it seems we have a burning desire to deforest British Columbia in the process. Walking through downtown Calgary, every day I saw the free ones (Metro, 24 and Dose) blowing in the breeze. I guess folks figure they’re free, so chucking them isn’t a problem.

Worse, these free papers are just scaled down versions of their parents. Take 24 for instance. It’s owned by the Sun. I haven’t figured out why if you read the Sun you want to read 24, and if you don’t like the Sun (as I don’t) why you would like 24. The content is the same, just shorter. Isn’t two of the same thing just a waste of paper? Metro is the world’s largest paper; we even looked at Metro in Amsterdam (thought it was written in some foreign language there). It’s amazing how little content they can pack into a free 20-page paper.

I subscribed to the Financial Post for a while. Then they got rid of the Saturday only subscription (for the same price, they were willing to give me 6 papers a week, which I didn’t want). I would try to pick a Saturday Post on the newsstand or in a local box, but it was typically sold out. When I called and complained, they told me they were printing fewer papers because circulation was dwindling. I told them their circulation was dwindling because they were printing fewer papers.

Then the folks who own the Herald bought the Financial Post, renamed it the National Post, and got rid of most of the financial news that I wanted. It became the “National Herald,” so I stopped reading it entirely. It feels like 80% of the content is the same, and the extra 20% is about Toronto. Like I care. I also don’t read the Globe & Mail, which I affectionately refer to as “Toronto’s National Newspaper.” Nothing quite like reading about galleries and theatre openings, getting excited to go see them, then discovering they’re in my old home town. My brother happens to write for the Globe, and even he always wonders why anyone outside of metro Toronto wants to read it.

When I’m traveling, I always read the local paper, and by local, I mean the paper of the city I’m in. USA Today has had a huge influence on the way newspapers are designed and written (for instance, check out the “Five Minute Herald.” Does it strike you as being strange that they’re trying to convince you that you just need to read one page to get everything in the whole paper? Isn’t this self defeating?). Personally, I think USA Today is vacuous, content-free fluff, and I only read it if it’s free (and even then, it’s only worthy of 5 minutes). When I lived in Houston, I used to be amused at how the Sunday Chronicle was available as early as Friday, and was over 2” thick.

My favourite “local” paper is The Maui News. It’s only about 5 pages long on a Monday, and it grows to 30 pages by Sunday, then shrinks again. They publish every Letter to the Editor they get, and many are hilarious, if for no other reason that how badly written they are. They report the local news, and just enough out of state news to remind you that you came to Maui to avoid the news.

In the mountains where I live, we have three local free weekly papers: The Rocky Mountain Outlook, The Canmore Leader and the Banff Crag and Canyon. Okay, it’s more like 2½ papers, because the Leader and the Crag and Canyon are the same paper with a different cover. The Outlook is a well written, full of interesting things, and well edited. The Leader’s a pile of badly written, badly edited, content-free crap, but I would expect that since it’s owned by The Sun which is the same. The Leader even contains the Calgary Sun’s Sunday Homes section (because of all the Canmore and Banff folks who really have a secret desire to move to a condo in Airdrie). Neither paper reports on anything that isn’t specifically related to Banff & Canmore. It’s as if the outside world doesn’t exist here.

But I miss my daily Herald. When I moved out to the mountains, I asked if they did home delivery out here. It took them a month (and 3 calls from me) to come back with the answer that they were unsure. They transferred my subscription to my new address, then told me to call them if the paper didn’t show up. It never did. So occasionally, I try to buy one in town. I can’t because it’s normally sold out (especially the Friday & Saturday issues).

Perhaps that’s why the newspaper business is in trouble.


Louie said...

You should submit this blog entry to your local papers and see if one of them prints it.

Well said - well written.


Anonymous said...

I stumbled on your blog looking for something on the Bow Summit viewpoint, then your post on the one year anniversary of your retirement caught my eye because I retired just over a month ago. Then, LOL, I saw your post on newspapers which also caught my eye as I had worked for 31 years at our local newspaper.

One month removed and I can honestly say that I will never read another newspaper again. They are being stifled by shoestring budgets, pagination is being outsourced with little concern for quality control and 85 percent of the news in our local paper anyway which is a sister to the Herald, is wire copy that you can grab anywhere.

Newspapers are dying. They will never go away completely just like television didn't kill radio. They will be around but will become just another way to read the news and a minor one at that.

Great blog!